Written by Marcus Honeysett
You can download the PDF of this resource (both parts) here.
Apologetics is just a part of evangelism, which itself is just a part of witness. Not everyone will be a great apologist, but we can all be witnesses. Not being great at answering questions doesn’t mean we can’t say why we love God and are excited about the good news of Jesus.
We want to gently help people to remove barriers to faith and apologetics is helpful but not the only contribution. The end result of our questions is not simply to provide intellectually satisfying answers, but to help people see the beauty and glory of God. The heart of the matter is not intellectual anyway - it is spiritual. We can give intellectually satisfying and coherent answers without addressing whether people are willing to respond to what they hear. By returning to the heart of the gospel and the need to turn to Christ after we have answered a question, we often find out whether that question is really a personal matter or simply an intellectual plaything. If it is, it is usually better to gently bring move the conversation on.
We have the privilege of taking the word of God and helping people see the relevance to themselves. Therefore we should expect that we will have the opportunities in apologetic discussions to apply the message personally and invite a response.
How do we do this non-threateningly?
Role play another of yesterday’s questions
Discuss - how can you turn a conversation?
- start where people are Acts 17
- identify common experience - eg sense of longing, not understanding the world, guilt, mortality, values. Go from isn’t this interesting, to how does it affect me?
- keep your conversation jargon free
- make appeal come out of the question - eg in answer to “what about those who have never heard” say “but you have heard, and are responsible”
- help people understand the attractiveness of Christ - it is a big step you are confronting them with. Christ offers forgiveness Mk 2, life Jn 4, the Holy Spirit Jn 16, reconciliation Rom 5, dealing with guilt Rom 8, Heaven Heb 10, etc. Know some of the benefits of being a Christian from scripture
- tell your story - how has being a Christian affected you? Not afraid of dying, etc. While we are concerned to give objective truthful answers to genuine questions, we also know that those answers have had a profound affect on us personally.
Two more example questions
Why Does God Allow Suffering?
The question of suffering and evil is probably the most vexing of them all. The underlying assumption is that God either isn’t all-loving: He will not prevent suffering; or He is not all-powerful: He cannot prevent suffering. Either way, the answers we give must reflect the fact that God is both.
When faced with questions about suffering and evil, we must also understand that here, more than in any other question, are two related, but different elements - the theological and the personal. Both are profound, both deserve much more than trite answers from us. It is here that the link between apologetics and pastoral counselling is most clear. Larry Crabb has a helpful model for counselling. He says that we live in a world that is a mess, but that God’s ultimate intention is that creation will know the peace of His rest. Moving forward with God is therefore a process of moving from mess to peace. The answers we give to questions of suffering ought to reflect this - we know objectively we are moving towards heaven and we need to know subjectively the peace which the Holy Spirit brings.
While we may have theological models or understanding (sin, God allows freewill, He is just and Heaven and Hell will put things right, etc, etc), we need to be extremely careful before we just spout them. There are factors that are helpful for us to bare in mind, which we will talk about in a minute, but especially in evangelism, don’t pretend we know more than we do. Honestly admitting our lack of knowledge can be as significant as things we do know the answers to…
A. Jesus was not afraid to deal with questions of suffering, and neither are the NT writers. Lk 13:1-5 - the passage about the tower.
B. Jesus does not offer sweet platitudes. He also points up two errors - either admitting that this was a direct consequence of specific sins, or that it was purely random.
C. All suffering is the result of living in a fallen creation Rom 1, Gen 3, and this includes natural disasters. Rebellion against God is responsible, God is not. Suffering entered the world as a result of sin, and 90% of it remains as a result of on-going sin.
D. The reason the innocent suffer, is that nobody is really innocent.
E. God’s perspective is of the ends. At one end He made the world good, at the other He will have a sinless, perfect creation for Himself. That is His purpose, not making things pleasant for me now, regardless of the sin of which I and my race are so clearly culpable. Indeed Rom 1 makes it clear that a lot of what we consider suffering and evil is a result of God giving over in judicial alienation, as punishment. Hence in the Lk passage Jesus could conclude that when we see suffering the right response is repentance.
F. The perspective of the end is also useful for us. One question that suffering makes us ask is “how long, O Lord.” When we realise the end that God has in view - His glory - we can rejoice in suffering because it produces character and hope, Rom 5. In God’s grace even suffering is not pointless.
G. God is not distant from suffering. Indeed in Christ He accepts the penalty of His own judgement on sin, and at the cross identifies with a suffering world more than we will ever understand. God understands perfectly what it is to suffer the greatest pain and loss.
H. God will judge. There will be an end to evil. That is the only answer that has meaning and it forces the question “what about you? - what will happen to you when He judges you?”
I. I say the only answer that has meaning, because the question of suffering always supposes a moral order. Without a moral right and wrong, the question of suffering is meaningless - there is no point. When suffering provokes indignation, we show inherent recognition of moral order.
What about those who have never heard?
A. A question about whether Christianity can really be the only way
B. Jesus clearly claims to be the only way Jn 14:6
C. Actually the question begs another - can’t I come to God any way I like? - discuss possible answers to this.
D. places great faith in man
E. what about God’s justice? Is it unquestionable?
F. is man responsible for his actions?
G. sincerity is not a reliable measure of truth
H. relativism does not work
I. People will be judged according to what they know, Rom 2. God will do so in truth, and people can know about Him through creation. But whether we have enough in creation to respond to Him is a moot point. The fact is, that even faced with God all turned away deliberately. We do not seek the kingdom of God if left to our own devices, we seek the complete opposite.
J. There is forgiveness available, and those who have heard have the responsibility to respond.
© Marcus Honeysett.